Whenever I think of Japan’s equivalent of the usually caped-crusaders found in abundance in America, I tend to think Tokusatsu. But Tokusatsu tends to see live-action television venues, where if you consider one of the terms’ progenitors, Shotaro Ishinimori’s Kamen Rider manga adaption, yet I cannot list that many other examples in manga itself. I do know of Western properties being adapted into manga, for there is Hulk manga written by Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami got his start making Spiderman based manga, but my mind draws a blank after those two (Osamu Tezuka’s bibliography is large enough that I bet his has an example to list). But then I stumbled upon a manga by the man who released Golgo 13 upon this unsuspecting world, yes Takao Saito created a super hero in his own right in The Shadowman.
Takao Saito, as mentioned earlier, is single handily known for both starting the Golgo 13 series in the late 60’s, then later leading a team of manga artists whose sole job is to keep Golgo 13 running as a basically episodic character (hey, there is that semi-Western comic creator connection). But outside of one of the longest running manga series still running, outside of his manga Dingo that I recognized, most of his work has never seen English attention or translation. That is until JManga started to champion him as strongly as Drawn & Quarterly champions mangaka Yoshihiro Tatsumi, cataloging tons of his work like the aforementioned Dingo as well as Kitty Hawker.
Reporter Mitsuo Tsuka is in the middle of a recent bank robbing incident where a young man has stopped the assailants by lifting the vehicle up over his head. The mystery man is shot down by the pursuing cops after he jumps at them, but right before he loses consciousness, his skin turns pitch black (basic brown in color) and his hair turns white (light blonde in color). Interested in exactly why various local physicians are so excited, Mitsuo investigates. But this mystery man demonstrates not only a resistance to gun fire, but super human strength and reflex; more than enough to escape yet is still recaptured by the local gang. We learn once the mystery man wakes up, that he is Katagari; a test subject for a secret crime organization named Relish, wherein he was transformed into what he is by way of radiation monitored by Dr. Takizawa. He wakes up with amnesia and after Dr. Takizawa fails to convince him to keep his cool, Katagari escapes and learns that his skin and hair change back when his body gets cold in direct sunlight.
Following his second break out, Katagari hides with his friends; the reporter Mitsuo from earlier, and Mitsuo’s younger brother Morio. Mitsuo informs Katagari that he is also a reporter who had joined with Relish to uncover their plot. As a wrapped Invisible Man-esque Katagari stays cooped up around Mitsuo’s house and neighborhood; Katagari picks up some costume pieces with Morio and dresses up as the Shadowman; decked out like Satoru Ishinimori’s Skullman but with a V-shaped mask. For a while, Katagari tries to hide his powers from his friends, but when Relish’s goons rise to the occasion and try to sniff out the nosy Mitsuo, things start to get confrontational. Katagari decides to protect Mitsuo, introducing the Shadowman to Relish. Relish is ever vigilant in trying to establish their Tokyo branch and get closer to world domination, and Katagari working as the Shadowman will have to work together with the secret protector of peace called Angel to stop Relish’s scheming.
I hate to have to do this, but I feel the need to discuss skin color in relation to the main characters in this manga in relation to manga in general. A key-point that jumped out at me was Katagari’s reaction to turning black. Now, his shame seemed to stem from the act of turning a Mr. Popo from Dragon Ball shade of pitch, not from being turned into someone of say African descent (remember, the color pages show Katagari having brown skin instead of the ink black in the manga). It steps along this fine line where you could just count the Shadowman transformation as an inversion of color, not commentary on race. So in a way The Shadowman is different from the few other manga that I can think of, such as Me and the Devil Blues and Blaster Knuckle respectfully, which have actual African main leads. Manga scholars, if any of you are reading this, please leave something in the comments, because in my opinion this topic deserves more attention.
Pros: When it gets going, The Shadowman becomes a crime action packed story about what it means to relate to others as a superhuman experiment. The Shadowman is not only a distinctive looking character, but that distinction continues throughout the rest of the narrative, always trying to keep it engaging yet never mistakenly over the top.
Cons: Takes about to the half-way mark in the first volume to get going. Those reading, may gain irritation from characters restating plot points with shocked expressions. You have been warned.
Like mentioned earlier, JManga has put out two volumes. Now time for a quick complaint about JManga; they for some reason do not put the original print date for their manga, so I can tell The Shadowman came before the 90’s Kitty Hawk in degrees of Saito’s artistic progression, but I cannot place an exact year. In these heady days of decades old back-cataloging wherein I am finding things not found in the Anime News Network encyclopedia, knowledge is power my friend. Well, facts I guess. I expect a sea of Shadowman cosplay in the future people to equate to how cool he looks, but I am far too busy holding my breath for people to cosplay things from actual manga. A man can dream can, can he not?